Seniors want value for money: Dr Haeri Roh-Schmidt


DSM is a global science-based company active in health, nutrition and materials. DSM India is headquartered at Gurgaon and employs more than 700 people across the nine locations in the country. DSM is working with various state governments in India on food fortification programmes and it recently opened a Fortitech Premix plant near Vadodara. Dr. Haeri Roh-Schmidt, Head, Science and Innovation and Director of business development (nutritional) for human nutrition and health, Asia-Pacific, DSM Nutritional Products, shares her views and opinion on healthy ageing as an upcoming segment and market trends.

What opportunities do you see in Indian market?

Most of the East Asian countries, along with India, are in dire need of nutritional improvement. The region needs to improve general nutrition status of the population. There are people with malnutrition and there are people with over-nutrition. We need to cater to both ends of the spectrum globally. We have to cater over-nutrition which is actually over consumption of calories leading to lifestyle diseases like diabetes. On the other hand there is malnutrition and hidden hunger problem. Addressing the needs of these both ends of the spectrum is also an important factor.

Lifestyle illness like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, blood pressure are not just a Western but a global challenge. All these disorders, in one way or the other, are related to ageing. Everybody around the globe is ageing. There would be around 50 million more elder people around the world by 2015 than what we have today. Proper nutritional management is crucial in managing ageing. Degeneration, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, losing muscular mass are some of the problems faced by senior people. India, being world’s largest diabetic population, challenge of addressing needs of ageing population gets even more challenging.

What nutrition-related trends you observe in ageing population segment?

Ageing earlier used to be a bad word. Everybody used to promote the concept of ‘anti-ageing’. But in reality, ageing is a natural phenomenon. Eventually everybody will grow old but the important factor is how to keep old age healthy. Bad thing about ageing is that people lose their ability to do certain things. It could be physical or mental ability or otherwise. Thus, addressing this loss of ability is the key factor for this population. 

Mobility is another important factor associated with this population. In old age, people don’t move as easily as a young adult would do. Thus, bone health, joint health and muscle health become important. Physical activity needs to be part of a good nutrition management. Also important is cognitive function, mental health, good memory, alertness and mood.

Organ deficiency is another challenge. The stress you have accumulated over time can affect your internal organs in unfavourable manner. Diabetes development and ageing almost coincide with each other. Besides generic factors and bad food habits, what is generally recognised as chronic illness are typically ageing disorders. Be it cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes – addressing these diseases from organ-point-of-view is very important. These are the trends in the market. 

In fact, there are very few products which are targeted to elder citizens. Elder citizens know what they want in their products – whether they want to improve their vision, their memory or muscular health. Addressing senior health is becoming more popular. If you have a product which is for cardiovascular health, joint health, or for strengthening brain function or eye function – these products are now talked by seniors because this is what they need. If you look at the consumer behaviour, seniors are very focused on what they need. They have more spendable income. They are looking for value of their money. If they spend money on a product, they want the product to do something favourable to them. We are working on these specific needs of the ageing population.

Is 30 the right age to start caring for healthy ageing?Is 30 the magic number?

It is hard to say, because this would depend on each individual. But if we look at the general lifespan of 60-70 years, 30 is the age when a person starts to see the deterioration of cellular function. When we start seeing the deterioration, that’s when we start reacting. Ideally, you should act earlier. Body is like a car, if you keep it oiled regularly, you can run it for longer.

Food is the best form of nutrition. However, not everybody has a good eating habit. Everybody may not make good food choices; everybody may not have accessibility for good food that is highly nutrient and nutrient-dense. If you lack certain nutrition, then you have to resort to an alternative nutrition intake. This is where hidden hunger and empty nutrition comes into picture. Even in developing economies there is overweight and over-nutrition problem. Over-nutrition originates from high calorie cheap food which has high nutrient value associated to it. If that’s what you have access to, you need to take some nutraceuticals or supplements that supplement your food intake to provide enough nutrition. We need to supplement food to make it healthier.

How does consumer behaviour plays a role in product development?

We are an ingredient company. Though we don’t touch the consumer directly, our ingredients reach consumers. Product development is not just about the ingredients but also about their application. How these ingredients are applied in various food and beverages is also important. People’s behaviour is very difficult to change. You can help people, educate and create awareness among them. It is a starting point, but ultimately they make their own choices. Making these choices easy is important. The choice should be easy to change to, not too much different from their usual food habits. It should be such that it can be introduced easily without having to change consumers’ existing habits too much. This is possible if you can apply really good ingredients in a way which is workable in what you eat. This is what we focus on in product development.

Is glucose management an important aspect?

All people need energy. Vitality is becoming a key factor. This has become an important part for the seniors as well. Among other factors, senior people also need motivation and vitality in their daily life. Keeping seniors energetic and motivated so that they can go out and do stuff and increase their productivity is all linked. Now in thrust of finding technology or innovation that addresses energy, it doesn’t always need to be a new ingredient per se. It can also come from understanding the product we already use and getting it for the right purpose.

Today’s science has very well understood how a person reacts to a sugar source – a simple sugar source or complex carbohydrates. If you have low glycemic food, your glucose management will be different. A simple sugar would give you quick energy and in shots, however, you feel empty soon after consumption. On the opposite side, if you have complex carbohydrates, the sugar reaction or carbohydrate energy reaction will be much different and it will sustain for a prolonged period.

For example, beta glucan that is present in oats has a different structure that acts as sugar moderator. This sugar doesn’t get quickly absorbed in the body. It doesn’t create shot responses like simple sugar. It is a little bit of sustained reaction – giving you feeling of being full and energetic for longer time. This, in a way, affects directly to energy levels and also to mental health – your mood, vitality, etc.

Now here the context also matters. Given the healthy characteristics of beta-glucan, people often make mistake of preparing highly concentrated extract of beta glucan and expect it to work same as it does in oats. However, that’s not the case.

For that you have to understand how beta glucan works in the context of oats. Oats have about 50% starch and very little amount of beta glucan – about 2-3% on average. Then it has some amount of insoluble fibres and a high concentration of protein. All of these contribute to the functioning of oats with beta glucan as a main driver. So the context is important.

So we need to develop products to maintain the similar composition. Our Oatwell ingredient contains higher concentration of beta glucan but also retain the insoluble fibre and amount of protein. i.e. we make it more nutrient-dense, more nutritious. However, we have cut down on carbohydrates. If you have to benefit from beta glucan, normally you would have to eat a lot of oats. It also means that you have to eat more calories. By cutting the carbohydrates, we actually cut the calories but still get the health benefits.

Do you think consumers are moving away from generic ingredients?

Vitamin may sound like a generic ingredient, but it’s a new science. I think we would probably continue and should continue this trend because that is where science exists. Speciality ingredients are becoming more popular because they are more available and there is new science to support them. Earlier it wasn’t more accessible because we were not spending much on it and now they are because we are investing on it. But this does not mean we can overlook the other important ingredients – protein that makes major part of our cellular structure, carbohydrates that give us energy and vitamins, deficiency of which can lead to disorders.

What are you currently focusing on for new product development?

We are focusing on supplements, foods and beverages and making them accessible and workable. Focus always goes to new ingredients to address health issues such as cardiovascular health or joint health but we also focus on addressing listed ingredients for making then more accessible and more workable. Suppose you make cookies but your audience don’t eat cookies, they only drink beverages. So we have to work on making those ingredients work in drinks the same way they work in cookies. 

Nikita Apraj

Read Previous

Dabur’s consolidated 2013-14 revenue up 15.1% and net profit surges 19.7%

Read Next

US FDA issues Draft Guidance on Food Allergen Labeling Exemption Petitions and Notifications

Leave a Reply